Looking at Wonder Years B-sides

 a photo of this blog's author realizing too late and with a certain amount of dismay that this post was going to take way more time than he budgeted.

a photo of this blog's author realizing too late and with a certain amount of dismay that this post was going to take way more time than he budgeted.

It's a pretty safe generality to say long-time fans of a band find themselves drawn to songs that are considered Rare in some way. This descriptor applies to several types of songs, here they are:

  • You have yourself the Deep Cut. Sorta loosely described as Rare, especially given the ease of access to full albums these days. This is a song that appears mid-way through an album's tracklisting, a song that kinda became a fan-favorite for a minute during the album release, but it wasn't released as a promotional single before the album came out, and it never got a music video in further promotions for the album following its release. The song was probably played on the second tour that supported its album and got a good crowd reaction but then it was dropped from the setlist when the next album came out. You're worried you'll literally never hear this song played live again; you'll absolutely scream if they break it out on that last tour of their current album cycle where you know they're gonna try some wacky shit before they go in the studio to record another LP.
  • You have yourself the Glorified Cover. Many acts will include cover songs into their sets when they're young and only have one or two albums to work off, or even later on for a variety of reasons. Sometimes Dashboard Confessional covers Sorority Noise and Julien Baker, for example. Bands may even make a proper recording of the cover (like Dashboard did) -- let's say for a compilation release or for a charity donation, or something like that. If a band is good enough, picks a good enough song that isn't covered too often, and offers an interesting enough take on the song, a cover can cultivate a weird following. If this happens when a band is young, and that band becomes successful, it usually won't keep the cover song in their live set rotation for too long; bringing it back at some point down the road can be a total crowd-pleaser.
  • You have yourself the Actual B-Side. This is a song that was literally on the B-side of a single. Like, the band is going to release an album soon, but before that, they released a one- or two-track single/EP in anticipation of the album proper. The single/EP includes one or two tracks from the forthcoming LP, plus a song or two that will not be on that LP; those songs are exclusive to this release. This can be taken literally/physically (i.e. the B-side of a 7"), or it can be taken, erm, digitally (i.e. a 4-song "EP" release where only one or two tracks are acknowledged to be from a forthcoming album).
  • You have yourself the Bonus Track. Your Fave Band finally released their new album, and they have three bonus tracks to boot! You didn't know about these beforehand. One of the bonus songs is available only on the CD that is being sold at Target (though perhaps not for long); one of the bonus songs is available only if you live in Japan and buy the album on iTunes; one of the bonus songs is available only if you live in a part of the world where it's currently the 5pm hour, and you're streaming on Apple Music, and it's above 80 degrees, but it's predicted to rain overnight.
  • You have yourself the Generally Unreleased Song. This is a song that was recorded, actually exists, and somehow made itself onto the Internet at some point. It wasn't on the B-side of a single, it wasn't a bonus track for an album, it's never appeared on any official release, it's an original song. Maybe it leaked, or maybe the band put it into the world themselves. Alternatively, this is a song that the band started playing live at one point but never actually recorded it and everyone just listens to a decent-sounding live version on their iTunes.
  • You have yourself the Early Demo. This can be the most coveted of the Rare Songs. These are sometimes leaked onto the Internet without the band's permission, but sometimes they're included in deluxe editions or re-releases.

There are more categories of this, I guess, but there isn't a huge reason to go on and on about the types of Rare Songs that fans love. This is not my masters' thesis. I am here now standing before you to write about The Wonder Years, a band that is usually either my Favorite Band or my Second Favorite Band depending on how far away we are from the last new Menzingers album (so TWY is still currently #2, but we're in the midst of seasons changing).

Since The Wonder Years did just announce a new album (Sister Cities / out on April 6 / listen to the title track here), it feels like a good time to reflect on some of my favorite TWY tracks. A surprisingly high number of my favorite songs by this band fall into the general B-sides category.

I've been fortunate to have the delightful experience of more or less growing up with The Wonder Years. Their album Get Stoked On It is not really, like, good or whatever, but it provided me with a fun thing to listen to when I wore out Four Year Strong's Rise Or Die Trying. They eventually turned the corner and became a band totally worth growing up with; they became the type of band that I thought they could become in 2010, and even more. Wonder Years albums, generally speaking, are mile markers in my life, in different ways. I can tell you where I was (in more of an emotional or broadly speaking sense, more so than a physical sense) when any of The UpsidesSuburbia, The Greatest Generation or No Closer To Heaven were released. Their albums have lodged themselves into my person almost immediately upon release, without fail. (And, now that I think about it, in terms of physical spaces, it's pretty easy to remember hearing a few songs off Suburbia in the band's van outside The Talent Farm in Pembroke Pines, or being handed an iPod and headphones with three tracks off The Greatest Generation to go listen to in a corner of The Stone Pony in Asbury Park hours before the band went on stage, or hearing "Cigarettes and Saints" for the first time in Dan's car after The Wonder Years played Skate & Surf.) This is why it comes as no surprise to me that Sister Cities will be released only three weeks after I get married.

My relationship with this band comes, naturally, with an affinity for those Rare Songs that many long-time fans of The Wonder Years love to hear at shows. Over the past couple months, I found myself revisiting some of these tracks without really planning on doing so; I find myself more attracted to these Rare Wonder Years Songs more so than those of other bands I enjoy. One of these songs is even my favorite TWY song ever!!

This list is for little more than my own amusement, but I hope that some TWY fan out there takes a look at this and stumbles upon an Actual B-Side or Bonus Track that they never knew existed, and they turn out to love it. The fun thing, too, about Rare Songs, is that they aren't just for die-hard fans anymore. Back in The Olde Days, you could only find these tracks if you were super-concerned with tracking down every shred of a band's catalog; the Internet has made it much easier to find this stuff now, to the point where seeing any of these songs played at a Wonder Years show, regardless of when they were released, will usually result in most of the crowd being able to sing along. The Internet is good and bad for many reasons, when you think about it, but in this way, it's good.

Without further ado, here are Rare (Or Rare-Ish) Songs by The Wonder Years, in chronological order. The song titles are links -- I realize that isn't super obvious on first glance. But it's a lot better that trying to embed this many YouTube videos.

"Cowboy Killers"

Decidedly a Get Stoked On It era track, "Cowboy Killers" wound up on a split with a band called Emergency and I in 2005. As far as I'm aware, this is the first time The Wonder Years ever released music. I never listen to this song and I do not really have anything to say about it. We are off to a rollicking start here, thanks for tuning in.

A post-script in the interest of comprehensiveness: The split with Emergency and I includes two early versions of songs from Get Stoked On It!: "Buzz Aldrin: The Poster Boy for Second Place" and "I  Fell in Love with a Ninja Master." 

"Through Two Hearts"

You may have thought "The Devil in My Bloodstream" from The Greatest Generation was The Wonder Years' first slowtempo emotional ballad, but you'd be wrong. Stop sleeping on this acoustic number from their split with Bangarang, posthaste! It's about Steve Irwin, RIP. I found it difficult to listen to this, honestly. This band wound up writing multiple of my favorite songs ever.

Another post-script: The split with Bangarang! also includes early versions of "My Geraldine Lies Over the Delaware" and "Let's Moshercise!!!", which would later be featured on the album Get Stoked On It!. It also contains a song called "I Ain't Sayin' He A Gold Digga (Sike!)", which later appeared only on a tour EP.

An aside: I am not mentioning any of the songs from Won't Be Pathetic Forever here, since I think that's a fairly well-known EP to most TWY fans. "I do think any of those four songs being played live would be a crazy thing to behold," wrote the guy with an "I refuse to sink" tattoo on his shoulder.

"An Elegy for Baby Blue" 

Here's the cutoff point between "songs I cannot listen to" and "songs I can listen to." This track comes from Distances, which is a split between TWY and All Or Nothing. "An Elegy for Baby Blue" is a song about Dan's bike, which was stolen, and while it still uses the GSOI-era synthesizer, it's very listenable and one of the earliest Wonder Years songs that shows an indication of what we'd get on The Upsides. If this song was performed live at a Wonder Years concert I would sing along.

"Don't Open The Fridge" 

Also from the Distances split. Also quite listenable. Not as good as "Elegy" but still pretty fine. "Is the shower working / I could use one today" is iconic poetry. Dan's first mention of Bukowski is on this track, not on "Woke Up Older," which will be a fun trivia fact when The Wonder Years are inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame by Seth Rollins in 2067. 

"Leavenhouse. 11:30." 

With only a handful of exceptions, this is where the list turns from "songs I can listen to" to "songs I actively seek out on occasion." Originally included on a separately packaged 7" with pre-orders of The Upsides, "Leavenhouse. 11:30" is very lo-fi from a production standpoint, but that doesn't stop the songwriting from absolutely screaming "I am an Upsides B-side." Between Josh's bass line around the 1-minute mark and the mention of a VFW hall, this song is extremely premium 2010 pop-punk. I firmly believe that crowds would flip their lid if this track was ever busted out on a future tour.

Side note: The 7" for this track had a large hole instead of a small hole, and even though it came with its own adapter, this does not make this a good idea. 

"Christmas At 22"

The No Sleep 'Til Christmas series produced a handful of delightful original tracks, and "Christmas At 22" is one of them. Also very Upsides-ish in terms of its songwriting, this was a feature on my Christmas mix CD that I listened to while driving between Gainesville and Pembroke Pines in my first two years of college. It won't get a listen from me every holiday season, but it holds a decent amount of nostalgic value.

Yet another side: A few other tracks I'm not mentioning here include some covers that are now several years old. "Zip-Lock," originally by the band Lit, was released on a split with Fallen From The Sky; "Cheap Shots, Youth Anthems," originally by Kid Dynamite, was released on the compilation tribute album Carry The Torch; and "Cooking Wine," originally by Alkaline Trio, was released on A3T: A Tribute to Alkaline Trio

"I Was Scared & I'm Sorry"

When The Wonder Years signed to Hopeless Records following the release of The Upsides, their first order of business was to re-release that album with the addition of four bonus tracks. "I Was Scared & I'm Sorry" was the first of those bonus songs to be released, and also incidentally the first of a string of Wonder Years releases that I premiered first singles from on AbsolutePunk.net back in my blogging heyday. (The others: "Local Man Ruins Everything" from Suburbia, "Anchor" from the GK Split, "Me vs. the Highway" from Punk Is Dead. Get A Job., "Passing Through A Screen Door" from The Greatest Generation.) This is an objectively good song, IMO. 

"Dynamite Shovel (Campfire Version)"

The second new song from The Upsides re-release. It's a live acoustic version of "Dynamite Shovel," which appears on that regular album. Perfectly fine.

"Logan Circle: A New Hope"

This was a very cool idea. The third new track from The Upsides re-release was a total reimagining of "Logan Circle" from that album, much slower and softer than the original version. "Logan Circle" was an undoubted fan favorite from that album, of course, and a song that still gets busted out on occasion. Looks like the last time was a summer 2017 tour in the UK. Seeing the original version live is rare enough that I doubt this version will ever make it to a setlist.

"We Won't Bury You"

The final new song from The Upsides re-release, a very emotional song about Mike Pelone, who was a close friend of the band and passed away around the time this re-release was coming out. This is the first (I think?) of several songs Dan has since written that were either about or inspired by Mike Pelone.

"Hey Julie"

This is a cover of a song by the band Fountains of Wayne. It appeared on a comp called Vs The Earthquake, which was released in March 2010 to benefit victims of a natural disaster in Japan. I also want to say that this was available on a 7" somewhere ... and it might have been only available if you subscribed to a year of Alternative Press magazine or something like that. If anyone remembers this, please tweet me.

"Aside"

Also put out just before the release of Suburbia, I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing, this is a Weakerthans cover that appeared on Take Action Vol. 10, a Hopeless Records compilation. This might have been the track that was on that AltPress 7", rather than "Hey Julie." 

"Local Man Ruins Everything (Acoustic)"

To help market the release of Suburbia, TWY released a 7" that featured the single "Don't Let Me Cave In." One variant of this 7" could only be tracked down in major cities. You got it by visiting Property Of Zack's website to learn about when an adult would dress himself or herself in a large pigeon costume in your city. You would follow the pigeon's Twitter account and wait for hints about where the adult human pigeon would be that day, then find the human pigeon to receive a 7". This song was on the B-side of it. It also appears on the deluxe version of Suburbia, I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing. 

Another aside: The Suburbia deluxe release has a total of twelve (12) tracks that didn't appear on the original album. This is too many to go into detail on, and some of them don't bear much chatting about anyway. The ones I won't dive in on include: A Nervous Energies session of "Don't Let Me Cave In"; an acoustic version of "Woke Up Older"; demo versions of "Came Out Swinging" and "Don't Let Me Cave In"; and live demo versions of "Coffee Eyes" and "Woke Up Older."

"Anchor"

The Wonder Years had two small releases that separated Suburbia's original release with its deluxe reissue release. Their cover of Into It. Over It.'s "Anchor" comes from the first of those two. It was featured on the GK Tour Split, which was a split 12" that was released to support the Glamour Kills Tour in spring of 2012. This was the biggest tour TWY did in support of Suburbia and their biggest tour to date at the time; it featured Into It. Over It. in the supporting slot, then a second slot where A Loss For Words and The Story So Far each did half the tour (!), Transit in the third slot, Polar Bear Club as direct support, and TWY headlining.

For the GK Tour Split, each of the bands on the tour covered another band on the tour. The Wonder Years took an IIOI song that was originally quite a bit more reserved (with hints of a louder undertone) and blew it out of the water a bit, in terms of the energy on the back half of the track. Really well done cover.

"Me vs The Highway"

The second of those small releases was Punk Is Dead. Get A Job. This was a 6" split ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ with Stay Ahead Of The Weather. Also, "Me vs The Highway" is my favorite Wonder Years song ever, I think.

The fashion in which this song was released, along with the way it begins, made me recall "Leavenhouse 11:30" when it originally came out. In retrospect, these tracks share a lot more in common as well. Both tracks felt like they were very much a part of their respective "album eras" ... "Leavenhouse" is clearly a product of this band while they were in the mindset of recording The Upsides, ditto this track for Suburbia. But both of these tracks also hint at a step forward, in my opinion, from a songwriting standpoint -- a step forward that serves as a good mini-stepping-stone* to the next album cycle. On "Highway," Kennedy's drumming, the break in the bridge, and Dan's particularly desperate delivery of the chorus all still stand out today. Dan singing "the best years may still be ahead of me" was an impactful thing for a TWY fan to hear at the time, right after the band had unexpectedly followed up an incredibly meaningful album in The Upsides with what was almost immediately regarded as an even better effort in Suburbia.

* An asterisk: Just something to put on 0s and 1s, since I don't think I've noted this before. I've always felt like, since The Upsides was released, The Wonder Years have done a really incredible job of easing fans into new album cycles.

The first song released from Suburbia was "Local Man Ruins Everything," a track that is both stylistically similar to The Upsides and a song that also directly references multiple Upsides-era things. "The fountain was off," the song's first line, is a direct reference to the first line ("They turned on the fountain today") from "Logan Circle." The song's chorus ("I'm not a self-help book / I'm just a fucked-up kid / I had to take my own advice and I did") is a direct reference to the reaction fans, especially those who found themselves relating to the album in a huge way, had to Dan after The Upsides' release. 

Skipping ahead to the release of the first single from The Greatest Generation, which was "Passing Through A Screen Door." This song references "Me vs the Highway" in its lyric "Well, the highway won"; it also references "This Party Sucks" with a refrain of "I was kinda hoping you'd stay," which is a line that makes later appearances on other TWY songs as well. Perhaps more importantly, this track was again a familiar sound to what Wonder Years fans were already comfortable with, from an album that saw another stylistic step forward for the group.

More or less the same thoughts from No Closer To Heaven's first single, "Cardinal." That song references The Greatest Generation's "Devil In My Bloodstream" with its lyrics "Caught between the lies you've been fed and a war with your bloodstream" and "I swear I'll never let you down again / I know the devil you've been fighting with." Meanwhile, the first song released from the forthcoming Sister Cities was that album's title track, which stands out as being much more in line with past Wonder Years work than the second single released, "Pyramids of Salt." It seems again that the band is preparing fans for a shift in sound by giving them a softball to begin.

"My Life As Rob Gordon"

Sticking here in the Suburbia era, I believe "My Life As Rob Gordon" was originally heard on the deluxe reissue of the album whose sessions it was born in. I think this track gets overlooked by "Me vs The Highway" and "Living Room Song," but that's a shame -- it's a pretty underrated Wonder Years song. "Someone keeps putting on all of the sad songs / I keep singing along / The jukebox turns and I'm gone / I poked in all my quarters / Looking for the perfect swan song to walk out on." This is good IMO. Love the lower vocals in the last chorus. Also gave me the title of the blog I wrote when I quit writing for AbsolutePunk.net. 

"It's Murder-Suicide (Nu-Metal Jam)"

A Change.org petition was created for the band to turn this demo into a real recording but it only ever got 14 signatures. Included on the Suburbia deluxe reissue.

"Living Room Song"

Kinda much better than it should be -- I remember this song getting a very strong fan reaction and wound up making its way into live sets probably much more often than the band imagined it would. It also led to...

"Living Room Song (Full Band)"

...a truly fun full-band rendition that was released on No Sleep Records' A Comp For MomThe lyric change from "I'm going to bed tonight in my New Found Glory" to "I'm going to bed tonight in my Modern Baseball hoodie" resulted in many mind-blown AbsolutePunk.net commenters. This song wound up becoming popular enough that you could bet on the majority of a TWY crowd knowing the lyrics at a show.

"Slow Dancing With San Andreas"

Included on the version of No Closer To Heaven that was sold by Target stores, this track was later released more widely by the band on their Bandcamp. It originally leaked online via a Tumblr post, which was a refreshing throwback to the old days given that this happened in 2014. While the track doesn't really fit in with the rest of No Closer To Heaven, I'm glad we got it eventually -- the chorus is a pretty cool back-and-forth between Dan and Matt Brasch. 

"Palm Reader (Alternate Version)"

In the same boat as "Slow Dancing," this one was included in the CDs that Target carried then was released on Bandcamp. The production stands out here as being a lot cleaner than what we heard on No Closer To Heaven, which was noted by fans upon this one's original release. As far as alternate versions go, I'd give this one the edge over "Logan Circle: A New Hope."

"(Sort Of) A Song for Patsy Cline" / "It's (Sort Of) a Pleasure to Meet You"

In support of a co-headlining tour that followed the release of No Closer To Heaven, The Wonder Years and Motion City Soundtrack took songs that were released on each of their most recent albums and sent instrumentals-only versions to the other band. Then that other band's singer laid down new lyrics with new melodies over the original. To me, this was a really cool evolution of the idea presented on the GK Tour Split years earlier, even if the resulting output wasn't as memorable as TWY's cover of "Anchor." 

When I started this blog, I didn't actually realize that I was going to be writing about a total of ¡22! songs. I kinda thought it was gonna be like 12 or something. But in the process, I think I wound up with a pretty thorough / holistic list of Wonder Years B-sides ... and with their new album Sister Cities dropping in just a couple of weeks, it feels like a nice time for a retrospective.

If I missed any tracks on this post that you think should be included, feel free to drop me a line.